Toyota uses Power Platform and Microsoft Forms for Travel Approval
Toyota Motor North America sends its Team Members all around the world to visit Toyota business locations, dealers and suppliers. As travel resumes, Toyota needed to quickly implement a system for tracking and approving field visits and ensuring that travelers are comfortable with travel requirements. With only a general understanding of Power Automate, one engineer within Toyota Motor North America’s Quality Division created and deployed a solution in only two weeks.
The solution, based on Microsoft Forms and Power Automate, was originally intended for his direct team but expanded to the division before it even launched. Using the data from this process, a co-worker then used Power BI to build a dashboard so the executive team has full awareness of the location and status of all traveling employees, and another co-worker created an application in Power Apps for contact logging during approved travel.
An Urgent Need to Keep Employees Safe
In trying to manage the business while protecting its Team Members, Toyota needed a way to ensure that they could travel when necessary, and that all travel followed an approval process. Based on an urgent request from executive management, Josh Smith, an engineer on the Field Technical Operations team, turned to Microsoft Forms and Power Automate to create a solution. Two weeks later it went live.
There was no precedent for this process. Without Power Automate, the only alternative would have been to use Excel and email the spreadsheets back and forth. Josh’s team spends most of its time traveling and this sort of email-based process would have been a huge impediment to their day-to-day work. The speed of deploying applications like this one is often seen as a cost savings, but in cases like this the ability to quickly deploy a capability to support employee health and safety is even more valuable.
Meet Josh Smith
Josh Smith is a Field Product Engineer in Field Technical Operations. He primarily travels to dealers, in addition to suppliers and manufacturing facilities, to ensure dealer technicians are properly trained in quality reporting and quality issues are addressed in a timely manner. Field Technical Operations started using Power Automate out of necessity to automate tasks quickly without needing to rely on central teams. Josh went to a weeklong conference where he did a Power App “App In A Day” session in preparation for a different project, but this project was his first hands on experience with Power Automate.
Josh works closely with Craig Shibuya, another Power Apps Champion, and Steve Hall who has been learning Power BI. Together they built this end to end travel approval and reporting system. They are cross training each other and more in the company on Power Platform, working together to automate processes in their division.
The Toyota Fast Approval System (FAS) on Power Platform
Josh created a survey in Microsoft Forms to collect basic information about the requested travel dates, location and need. Travelers can also identify needed personal protective equipment (PPE) for the site and verify that the traveler is also comfortable with the travel. Josh used Microsoft Forms because it was very easy to create a new survey and modify it as needed. Plus, Microsoft Forms is accessible on a computer or mobile device. In the future he may move the form to an app built in Power Apps as the organization introduces more complex logic.
When the form is submitted, Power Automate uses the Office 365 Users connector to step through the reporting structure to find the requestor’s appropriate approver within the management hierarchy. In certain conditions, for example international travel, the logic will identify the secondary approver necessary for final approval. The approver names are stored in SharePoint, which triggers approval requests via Power Automate approvals.
Approvers and managers get an email with highlights of the request and an attached PDF detailing the request submitted in Microsoft Forms. Josh used the built-in Word and One Drive actions to populate a Word document and convert it to PDF. The requester and approvers get a summary email with the PDF attached in addition to the approval notification over email and in the Microsoft Flow mobile app. Executive approvers have quickly taken to the ability to approve requests on their mobile devices.
Although new to Power Automate, Josh was able to use Run After conditions to notify him of error conditions and caught one exception condition on the first day of use. The flow also sends daily reminder emails to approvers until the travel is approved, although some requests are approved in just five minutes.
Once travel begins, travelers use Power Apps on their smartphones to run an app created by Craig Shibuya to log their contacts and travel locations. In this way the system creates a complete record of each traveler’s interactions.
A few days after the solution went live, Steve Hall created a Power BI report to summarize the travel data. This dashboard shows the number of current travelers and a heat map of their locations. Management can also see the volume of upcoming travel and monitor approval status of each trip.
A single form in Microsoft Forms is used to collect data. Each form submission triggers a Power Automate flow that reviews the Active Directory hierarchy to find the appropriate level approver to send a Power Automate approval and PDF summary. While in the field, travelers use an app in Power Apps on their smartphones to log contacts, which could support memory recall as needed. Power BI provides an overview of current approval status and active travelers.
The FAS system uses Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, Power Apps and Power BI. Data is stored in SharePoint.
Impact and Benefits
Without Power Automate, the only alternative would have been to use Excel and email the spreadsheets back and forth. For teams like Field Technical Operations, this would have resulted in significant overhead and delayed approvals, plus a lack of reportability. With the Fast Approval System not only does executive leadership have complete visibility into the status of travelers, but the ability to approve on mobile devices has sped approvals and led the team to look for other processes to move into Power Automate.
Josh, Steve and Craig are looking ahead to further uses of Power Platform. For example, they are considering future projects to ensure that quality surveys from engineering are addressed quickly from dealers and suppliers in the field, better connecting locations across the country with headquarters. Josh also plans on using child flows to make his flow more modular and re-using functionality like finding correct approver within management hierarchy, in other approval scenarios.